Monday, July 07, 2008

La graine and le mulet

My latest New Statesman column was prompted by the film Couscous (La graine and le mulet), a vivid and affecting study of an Algerian family living in the French port of Sete. The point I try to make is that couscous, meaning both the grains and the feast, resonates as a film title in a way that few other food names would.

Most of the couscous we buy is, unlike the grains Souad prepares in the film, pre-cooked. We do not have to steam it for an hour or so, but simply to soak it. What I used to do was put it into an oven dish, pour over boiling water to moisten but not to drown the grains, cover the dish, and transfer it to the oven for five minutes (at any temperature). A few weeks ago, I checked the instructions on a Ferrero packet, and discovered a method I now prefer.

You put your couscous (about 75g for each person is a decent amount) into a measuring jug. Check the level. Tip the couscous back into a bowl. Pour water into the jug to the same level; transfer the water to a saucepan with a little salt and about a tbsp of olive oil for each 150g of grains; bring the contents of the pan to the boil; tip in the couscous and make sure all the grains are soaked; cover and leave for five minutes. Stir through the couscous with a fork.


Fiona Beckett said...

I do much the same, Nicholas but use a weakish vegetable stock made with Marigold vegetable bouillon powder rather than water which just gives the couscous that extra bit of flavour.

Look forward to seeing the film. We know Sete well so will particularly enjoy it.

Nicholas Clee said...

That sounds like a good idea.

When I first used Marigold, and made the mistake of following the recommended quantities, I thought that it was overpoweringly salty -- saltier than a cube, though the ingredients list (if my calculations are accurate) suggests that it should not be. It's good in moderation, though.